History of Sony PlayStation

The story behind Sony's game-changing video game console

Original Sony PlayStation. Public Domain

The Sony PlayStation was the first video game console to sell over 100 million units. So how did Sony Interactive Entertainment manage to score a home run on its first foray into the video game market? Let's start at the beginning. 

Sony and Nintendo

The history of the PlayStation begins in 1988 as Sony and Nintendo were working together to develop the Super Disc. Nintendo was dominating computer gaming at that time.

Sony had not yet entered the home video game market, but they were eager to make a move. By teaming with the market leader, they believed they had a good chance for success.

The Super Disc was going to be a CD-ROM attachment intended as part of Nintendo's soon to be released Super Nintendo game. However, Sony and Nintendo parted ways business-wise as Nintendo decided to use Philips as a partner instead. The Super Disc was never introduced or used by Nintendo.

In 1991, Sony introduced a modified version of the Super Disk as part of their new game console: the Sony PlayStation. Research and development for the PlayStation had begun in 1990 and was headed by Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi. It was unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1991, but the next day Nintendo announced they were going to use Philips instead. Kutaragi would be tasked with further developing the PlayStation to beat Nintendo.

Only 200 models of the first PlayStation (that could play Super Nintendo game cartridges) were ever manufactured by Sony. The original PlayStation was designed as a multi-media and multi-purpose entertainment unit. Besides being able to play Super Nintendo games, the PlayStation could play audio CDs and could read CDs with computer and video information.

However, these prototypes were scrapped.

Developing the PlayStation

Kutaragi developed games in a 3D polygon graphics format. Not everyone at Sony approved of the PlayStation project and it was shifted to Sony Music in 1992, which was a separate entity. They further spun off to form Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. (SCEI) in 1993.

The new company attracted developers and partners that included Electronic Arts and Namco, who were excited about the 3D-capable, CD-ROM based console. It was easier and cheaper to manufacture CD-ROMs compared with the cartridges used by Nintendo.

Release of the PlayStation

In 1994, the new PlayStation X (PSX) was released and was no longer compatible with Nintendo game cartridges and only played CD-ROM based games. This was a smart move that soon made PlayStations the bestselling game console.

The console was a slim, gray unit and the PSX joypad allowed far more control than the controllers of the Sega Saturn competitor. It sold more than 300,000 units in the first month of sales in Japan.

The PlayStation was introduced to the United States at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles in May 1995. They pre-sold over 100,000 units by September's US launch.

Within a year, they had sold almost two million units in the United States and over seven million worldwide. They reached the milestone of 100 million units by the end of 2003.